Friday, September 09, 2005

A common criticism of small groups and house church movements is that they're breeding grounds for heresy and other problems. Some thoughts on why this is not necessarily true.

SOURCE: http://tallskinnykiwi.typepad.com/tallskinnykiwi/2005/09/josh_mcdowell_o.html

Josh McDowell on Small Groups

Joshm" . . . much of this meeting time is spent with people sharing their subjective ideas. Ideas born out of a post-modern worldview. . . If Christian leaders don't take hold of the small group phenomenon it will take on a life of its own and redefine the church in a way that we do not even want to venture to imagine. " Josh McDowell, newsletter.

[HT: Ingrid, who has a great looking new site - love that brown and black! I posted a long comment there but have not seen it approved yet]

On the other side of the argument is the small group movement (that Josh is addressing) and the simple/house church movement that says things like this:

"In most modern-day home churches, all members are considered to be equal. There are no professionals in charge; they often have no leaders. Those which do have leaders select them democratically and often rotate the position. Instead of a minister or priest addressing a congregation, they have discussions, prayers, and sharing among equals." Link

Well, its Friday morning and I got up early. I have just enough time to scribble some thoughts about Josh's challenge . . and then I am off to work. . I have grown up with Josh McDowell and his books. Love the guy. I heard him speak once at Jesus North West - he rocked!

I realize the challenge that the small group phenomenon, simple church/ house church movement and underground church scene worldwide brings to the more hierarchical top-down church structures who feel that, without a strong teacher to guide the people, how will they avoid heresy? Josh recommends marrying style with substance. And for Christian leaders to bring "church-wide unity to these small groups."

As for me, I respect what Josh says and share the same commitment to truth and fear of untruth. But I am seeing it from a different angle:

- The problem of having to listen to people share their subjective ideas in a small group will not be solved by sending them to a church service to hear a preacher behind a pulpit share his or her subjective ideas.

- Research has shown that heresy usually comes through higher education [seminaries] and foreign elements. It normally does not come up from the grassroots but down from the top. Good book to read here is "Church Planting Movements" by David Garrison.

- Heresy can flourish when false teaching goes unchallenged, or when people are confined to a learning environment where they feel scared or unempowered to speak up when they detect something wrong. A small group setting where interaction is encouraged, even disagreement, is a safer place to find truth than a monologue from a preacher lifted high and not available for correction.

- Unity does not have to come from the top down or from the institutions. Small group networks can host city wide events that bring unity to the the wider body of Christ - We did this in Austin, Texas in 2001.

- Emergence theory, as demonstrated in ant colonies (Prov. 6:6) has shown how an organization can emerge and flourish when leadership and responsibility is shared, rather than ordered from one commander. The goal is not stronger direction from the leader and more obedience from the slaves but rather more communication and response, simple structures, more empowerment to those on the ground. The church already has a leader - his name is Jesus - and we have all been given our orders.

- If George Barna's numbers are correct, we should not be looking at house churches and small group type expressions as secondary church structures that should be subjugated under modern church but rather as a viable, Biblical, effective, powerful way of doing church and an option that will be chosen by at least the same number that today chose the institutional model. In fact, house church may become the new standard by which we measure other structures.

- The small group phenomenon already has taken on a life of its own in many countries - China, India. Even USA had its National House Church Conference last week in Denver. There is no stopping it and traditional churches cannot expect to jump in to control it because leaders in one ecclesiastic world may not carry the same weight or respect in other worlds. If traditional leaders have not been speaking into the micro church at its inception, how can they expect to gate crash the party half way through with the same level of respect. Or in other words, if they have not helped to build the foundation, why should they hoist the flag?

- Style and substance? Yes. But another element must be added, both in the church hall and in the living room: Submission.
"Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" Ephesians 5:21. Style + Substance + Submission This will allow churches to be, as Garrison says, "self-correcting".

Further Reading:
" Will The Emerging Church Fully Emerge? by Frank Viola

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